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GDocs vs. ThinkFree vs. Zoho vs. MS Office 226

Posted by timothy
from the probably-the-one-steel-cage-is-enough dept.
CWmike writes "Web-based productivity suites, once almost a contradiction in terms, have become real challengers to desktop applications. Google Docs, ThinkFree, and Zoho, have all made major improvements in recent months. They're becoming both broader, with more applications, and deeper, with more features and functionality in existing apps. The question is: Are these three applications really ready to take on a desktop-based heavy hitter like Microsoft Office?"
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GDocs vs. ThinkFree vs. Zoho vs. MS Office

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  • No (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 17, 2008 @08:43PM (#24236029)

    Do you honestly think a business is going to allow its private correspondence to be handled over the Internet by one of these programs? Unless the company has nothing it would like to hide from its competitors, this isn't going to happen. There is too much fear of corporate spying.

    • Re:No (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Darkness404 (1287218) on Thursday July 17, 2008 @08:48PM (#24236083)
      But how many businesses use e-mail? A bunch. How many use even plain-text e-mails? A good amount. How many use Windows and don't keep up with security patches? A ton. How many do you think have an outdated version of Apache running the webserver they have? One with a known flaw? How many even use unencrypted wireless networks? Or weak passwords? There are a lot more things the businesses have to and should worry about than a reputable company (Google) being hacked or broken into by a competitor.
      • "There are a lot more things the businesses have to and should worry about than a reputable company (Google) being hacked or broken into by a competitor."

        Yeah yeah, but the real world doesn't run on 'should'. The reality is lots of executive types won't be thrilled with the idea sensitive data being hosted on a website.

    • by Nursie (632944) on Thursday July 17, 2008 @09:13PM (#24236297)

      Same objection I always had with GMail.

      Google is then in charge of your data.

      I don't care if google is staffed exclusively by Ophanim (closest rank of angels to god), I'm not willing to trust a third party with my stuff, and neither should any self respecting company.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Get real. Difference between you and "self respecting companies" is that they don't have a stash of porn they're trying hide.

        "Self respecting companies" usually have a CFO whose job it is to make sure that money gets spent wisely. Let's consider having you or some other geek team manage my corporate data vs. doing it at Google:

        Security:
        Geek: encrypts stuff, holds me hostage
        Google: Google datacenter security [google.com]

        Risk:
        Geek: let's face it, would sell his mother (never mind the customer d

        • by Nursie (632944)

          I don't have a stash of porn either. In fact I have nothing to hide. That doesn't mean I want to share all of my information with third parties, even if they swear blind they won't look at it.

          Security:
          The data never leaves the company network
          vs
          it travels over the net and then gets stored by people I don't know

          Risk:
          The data never leaves the company network
          vs
          it travels over the net and then gets stored by people I don't know

          "Unlike your employer, they just manage that risk."

          You have no idea who I work for but

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Fred_A (10934)

        I'm not willing to trust a third party with my stuff, and neither should any self respecting company.

        Like Microsoft ?
        MS Word could be FTP-ing your docs to Redmond every night for all you know.

        • by Nursie (632944)

          I'd see the traffic. As would other people. That wouldn't stay secret very long.

    • Yes (Score:2, Insightful)

      So many companies (particularly smaller ones) don't really know much about computer security, backups etc and what Google provides is probably better than what most mom&pops can do themselves.
    • So once their suite is out of beta, and Google offers an G-Office Appliance which you can buy outright and install in your own server room, you'd have no objections?
    • Absolutely I "honestly think a business is going to allow its private correspondence to be handled over the Internet ...?"

      Only it's not "one of these programs" but a whole cornucopia of online office 'sweets' [healyourch...ebsite.com] that are otherwise known Software as a Service [wikipedia.org] or SaaS for short.

      And they're doing it in huge ways, just look at the dominance SalesForce [salelsforce.com] has in the area of CRM applications, or the online offerings by 37 Signals [37signals.com]."

      Fact is, the cross-platform, concurrent collaboration qualities of these SaaS based offic

  • No.... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Darkness404 (1287218) on Thursday July 17, 2008 @08:44PM (#24236037)
    I don't think that web apps will ever replace desktop apps for a while. First off, the issue of screen resolution. It is really easy to get OOo to work on my EEE PC even if it wasn't already installed, on the other hand, Google maps shrinks to a tiny little box. And even though decreasing the size in Firefox 3 makes it bigger, the font size becomes too tiny to even read. That's not to mention all the mobile devices that can have a ported version of OOo or Office to them with a customized interface to work well with each device while the web-based app doesn't cut it because it is too small. Will all these bugs be ironed out in the next 5-10 years, I would think so. But for now, no web app is ready to take on the desktop environment until it works well with various screen resolutions. (Google docs doesn't suffer from this problem, but Google maps does and I haven't tried either ThinkFree nor Zoho)
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Inner_Child (946194)
      I haven't used an EEE myself, but I imagine that hitting F11 would still put Firefox in fullscreen mode, and get rid of the toolbars, giving you a lot more room to work.
    • by cmacb (547347)

      I don't think that web apps will ever replace desktop apps for a while.

      Well, which is it? Never, or not for a while? :)

      I'll go up the middle. There are clearly people using Google Docs right now (me for instance, but I am not in a situation that requires me to do either a lot of documents or spreadsheet work).

      I work with several small companies and whenever they send me either Excel or Word documents I load them into Docs (if I feel the need to save them at all) and so far I haven't run into any problems.

      • Re:No.... (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Darkness404 (1287218) on Thursday July 17, 2008 @11:57PM (#24237531)

        Well, which is it? Never, or not for a while? :)

        Well, 10 years ago we couldn't imagine anything like YouTube, and the idea of streaming media was almost laughable back when most people had dial-up. The very idea of a browser on a cell phone would have been seen as impossible, and a phone that would be driven purely by a touch screen was the stuff of science fiction and would have cost $1000 easily. 10 years ago, Linux on the desktop seemed like something that was impossible. 10 years ago, a $200 desktop or a $300 laptop would have been looked at as if it was a scam. Yet today just about everyone visits YouTube, uses streaming media, and nearly every phone has a browser, and the iPhone has been a success and now only costs $200 (well more if you count in what expensive plan AT&T tries to put you on). Linux is pre-installed on many laptops and desktops today, and we have the $200 gPC and a $300 EEE PC. So, when I say, for a while, it means that today it sounds impossible, but 5-10 years from now, we might all be using it.

    • I think one of the biggest reasons is Database access.. I know where I work, and many other places, Excell has become less of a calculation tool, and more of a reporting tool.

    • can have a ported version of OOo or Office to them with a customized interface to work well with each device while the web-based app doesn't cut it because it is too small

      Will all these bugs be ironed out in the next 5-10 years

      Seriously? That long? They can make a version of OOo and Office for each new small device in less than a year, but making a customized version of web clients takes 5-10 years?

      This is a trivial problem. The thing that web clients are made to do is work well at different resolutions.

  • well (Score:5, Interesting)

    by stoolpigeon (454276) * <bittercode@gmail> on Thursday July 17, 2008 @08:45PM (#24236055) Homepage Journal

    I spent a decent amount of time today reproducing an OO.o spreadsheet in Google Docs - still a long way to go there before it is a threat. The gDocs spreadsheet does some cool things for a web app - and I was impressed with some of the features (for a web app - see how I have to keep qualifying?) but it still doesn't come close to the desktop app.

  • by antifoidulus (807088) on Thursday July 17, 2008 @08:50PM (#24236103) Homepage Journal
    From TFA:
    And because you work in a Web browser, they're cross-platform applications by default:

    At work we are going through some issues because Apple decided to deprecate Quicktime for Java and now we are scrambling to find a replacement that will work on Windows and Macs. However, honestly writing cross-platform apps that play movies and deal with databases and lots of networked files isn't trivial to make cross platform, but it might be pretty easy if we went to the web. Is this the future direction for "cross-platform" applications?
    • If you don't need it to be Java.

      • My thinking exactly. Sort of. That might be a step up coming from quicktime for java, but still doesn't sit well with me. I haven't had a ton of experience with either Qt for Java, flex, or any other alternative. But, this being slashdot I'll make an ignorant complaint/ suggestion anyway. The right way to do that is Smil. Its an xml based multimedia presentation language, thats poorly supported by very few companies (real doing the least worst job). Why, why, why didn't anyone at all make it work well? It
  • by Cochonou (576531) on Thursday July 17, 2008 @08:51PM (#24236105) Homepage
    Last time I had to use the Google Docs suite (3 months ago), it was to access a shared spreadsheet: each people had to fill in what food or drink they were bringing in at a party, in order to have some kind of co-ordination. The "shared document" concept is really nice, however the AJAX controls were killing the performance of my laptop from 2004. So I have trouble imagining doing work with such a solution - at least with my configuration.
    Of course, it would be probably better with a newer computer, but I feel sad that an application which is recognised as being a hog such as MS Office runs better on my computer than Google Docs. (I took a glance at TFA, and it seems to imply that Google Docs is the fastest solution of all 3).
    • The performance of any web based application will depend on A) Your browser and B) your connection speed. If you are using IE 5, it is going to be really slow. If you are using Firefox 3, it should be at least reasonable in speed. If you are on dial-up it will be slower then the guy on a 8 MB connection. All web based apps suffer from this, and is one of the reasons that they aren't used as much.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        And the performance of any RIA will depend on your browser's javascript implementation. That's why I use Webkit as much as possible.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by batkiwi (137781)

      I'm posting this right now on an hp pavilion ze4430us bought in early 2003. It was $990 at the time from Circuit City (close to bottom of the line) with 512mb ram and a "mobile AMD Athlon(tm) XP2400+" (so says cat /proc/cpuinfo).

      We run a google spreadsheet with 5 tabs and a few hundred rows in each tab (and some longrunning calculations on the front page) and it never has any performance issues with google docs, even with 3 of us editing at the same time. This is in firefox3 on ubuntu hoary something 8.04

    • The ability to collaborate in a very natural fashion is a strength of GDocs (and I assume the other web-based suites) that is going to be very hard for MS Office, OOo, or any other PC based office suite to match.

      OTOH, the local desktop office suite is likely to stay around for a long time. It has strengths with regard to customization of the user interface, macros, templates, boilerplate insertions, and tie-ins to local databases or datastreams that will not be easily duplicated by the online tools.

      Perf

      • The ability to collaborate in a very natural fashion is a strength of GDocs (and I assume the other web-based suites) that is going to be very hard for MS Office, OOo, or any other PC based office suite to match.

        Why? What magical power do you think web browsers have to transfer your data quickly and accurately from one place to another that other applications cannot implement? Do you think shifting all that data via a third party is going to give you more bandwidth just because that third party is "teh Google" or something?!

        People have been using things like IRC and instant messaging on the Internet for decades, and they are a heck of a lot more efficient at transferring data in real time than anything based on HTT

        • Okay, I'll feed the troll a bit. Others might enjoy watching.

          Why? What magical power do you think web browsers have to transfer your data quickly and accurately from one place to another that other applications cannot implement?

          I don't expect that of the browser at all. I expect the browser to do exactly and only what it is intended to do: function as a client.

          Meanwhile, the server-side software of GDocs (for one example) will assure that all collaborators are working with the same version of each tool in the toolkit. When a bug fix or new feature is added, all collaborators benefit immediately. Further, the hardware or OS any collaborator is using has no impact on the

  • by bcrowell (177657) on Thursday July 17, 2008 @08:54PM (#24236137) Homepage

    The last time I tried the google docs spreadsheet (maybe 6 months ago?), it was ridiculously slow. I was about to post here and point that out, but then I thought I ought to check how the performance was today, in case it had improved. Well, I don't have any real data, but my subjective impression is that they must have made vast improvements in its performance since the last time I tried it. It really seems fine now.

    The question in my mind now is how many people are really going to want this.

    • A lot of users aren't going to use it, for the same reason they're still running IE5 -- they've always "had Microsoft," and they're not the kind of people who are interested in tinkering with software.
    • Serious users aren't going to use it, because it doesn't have the right features.
    • I'm not going to use it, because I'm getting along fine with gnumeric and ooo, and I see web apps as a free-as-in-beer solution that would be a step backward from free-as-in-speech.

    I teach physics at a community college, and I have a bunch of linux boxes in the lab alongside the windows machines. The linux boxes only have Ooo, and the Windows boxes have both Ooo and Excel. It's been interesting seeing how students react to being presented with a choice between Excel and Ooo. I actually have documentation in the lab manual for Ooo, and none for Excel. Nevertheless, the vast majority don't want to mess with Ooo. Even if they have never used a spreadsheet before in their life, Excel is a brand name they've heard, so that's what they gravitate toward.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by nawcom (941663)

      I'm guessing these are entry level physics classes? 111 or 101 perhaps? I don't mean anything bad at all, because the last time i had a physics class no one was using MS Office stuff at all. Pretty much everyone writes stuff up with LaTex.

      Just for humor's sake, you should teach a lesson one day about how Microsoft software makes your intelligence fall. I'm sure it's pretty easy to come up with a reasonable formula for it's rate of change. Even better, play the Balmer videos. Everyone loves those. :-P

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Grey Ninja (739021)
        One of my teachers in school required us to submit assignments in LaTex. There was quite nearly a full scale rebellion. I was pissed off enough that she required us to use a program of her choice to generate a PDF that I simply didn't bother to learn. I just OO.o, same as always, and exported to PDF. The marker didn't know the difference.
        • I should also note that this was a computer science class, not physics. We really just needed to answer questions about Databases, and nothing more complicated that a text based word processor would offer. (Sorry if that's completely inaccurate. As I said, I didn't bother to learn, as it rubbed me the wrong way, and I don't use any word processor enough to learn a new markup language just to submit an assignment.)
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by pato101 (851725)

          I was pissed off enough that she required us to use a program of her choice to generate a PDF that I simply didn't bother to learn.

          Seems you completely misunderstood what she was pretending: my guess is that she wanted you to learn another point of view in the field of documents creation.

          I just OO.o, same as always, and exported to PDF. The marker didn't know the difference.

          Just because she didn't say anything does not mean she didn't know. She knew most of you would not use LaTeX.

          This course I've driven a final career project, and convinced the boy to use LyX (I helped him installing it on windows, which is pretty easy by the way). At the beginning it was tricky for him, but after a couple of days he was comfortable. A

          • Seems you completely misunderstood what she was pretending: my guess is that she wanted you to learn another point of view in the field of documents creation.

            This was a database class. Not a business class. I don't think that document creation is something I should really be concerned with. I quite honestly don't care what program creates the document. When I have to write documentation, it's usually in the form of a wiki, html, or source code comments. I don't think an office document is all that good of a medium for carrying most of the information I want to convey.

            Looking through my documents directory on my PC, I see a number of word processor docume

            • by pato101 (851725)

              This was a database class. Not a business class.

              The value a professor should transmit to their students is much more than following certain program for certain subject. Think integral!.
              Students are sometimes busy and don't like working aside the established program. I understand that. But let me state that ignoring these extra works you lose opportunities to gather knowledge which can be good for your personal formation and which can feed your resume as well.
              Workarrounding your teacher requirements is a good point also, because you react an adapt inste

            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              This is way off-topic, but given the series of posts you've made, I think it needs to be said here.

              Sometimes, a course of study at a school is designed by people who are actually smart, and they weave general knowledge of the field and awareness of the possibilities carefully throughout the various classes on more specific subjects. When you're taking such a course, almost by definition it is unlikely that you have yet gained the skill and experience to appreciate this.

              Your attitude implies that you think y

  • Litmus test (Score:5, Insightful)

    by narcberry (1328009) on Thursday July 17, 2008 @09:31PM (#24236415) Journal
    The simple litmus test: Would you submit a resume using those tools?
    • Considering people who receive resumes are often HR luddites, it's a test - but not of how good the tool is. More a test of adoption.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by gbobeck (926553)

      I wrote my resume in Google Docs. Overall, it did a pretty good job, and made it a lot easier to not only track revisions, but also to share it with a few chosen people who were givnig me some assitance in writing it.

      After it was finished, I found it trivial to save it as a .doc and do last minute formatting in Open Office. Most of the formatting issues were really caused by minor font differences created by the constant changes and revisions. I have since re-uploaded the final version to google docs.

      So

    • by kellyb9 (954229)
      At this point, I wouldn't submit a resume in anything other then .doc format. Hell, I wouldn't even submit it in .docx format... They are still making progress.
  • Many companies don't even like given internet access to all their employees (which I agree with) so a web-based office solution is less than optimal.

    I'm still holding out for a sleeker version of OpenOffice with an improved UI and improved load times.

  • by rochlin (248444) on Thursday July 17, 2008 @10:24PM (#24236857) Homepage
    I use Zoho Writer everyday to share frequently updated docs among co-workers. It's buggy, terrible for printing, and not completely dependable. But it's damn convenient for that kind of sharing. Especially if updates are only needed a couple times a day. When I started using it a year ago, it was better than Google's alternative, though I think Google has now passed it.

    Still, if I'm going to type anything for printing I'll use Word. If I'm going to do anything that doesn't need to be continuously shared, I'll use one of the office apps. If I need a spreadsheet of any complexity, I'll use Office.

    I'd much rather see Google & Zoho polish the features they do have (Zoho still can't print in Landscape format, has nothing close to WYSIWYG printing, and frequently locks. Google has no locking to prevent users from overwriting each other (last time I tried it...). Don't bloat till you've got the skeleton working.

  • by jollyreaper (513215) on Thursday July 17, 2008 @11:58PM (#24237547)

    I work at a non-profit. While we use Office internally, some of the groups are shifting to Google Docs for community outreach. Why? Because there's no software to buy, information can be shared between remote and local users, updated instantly.

    I've tried using Word's version tracking features and they tend to fall down. Google Docs will allow simultaneous editing but it's auto-save feature needs work. It saves every 30 seconds so you can end up with a thousand edits that don't really mean anything. Two features that need to be added: the first feature is a data edit session. If Joe reviews the document, he can open a session, make his changes, and close the session. So when I want to see what Joe did, all I have to do is hit a filter that says "Highlight Joe's last session." Or maybe I could say "highlight all of Joe's changes." The other feature that would be great is versioning. After I finish my first draft, I promote the document to second draft and continue editing. Then I can track changes between draft 1 and draft 2, 3, etc, Joe's contributions between draft 1, 2, etc.

    At this point in time, Excel is the only Microsoft application I actually like. Google has a way to go to equal that. But for data aggregation, Google Spreadsheets work just fine. Anyone can open the sheets, enter data, and I can copy and paste into Excel for anything more. Nobody has to own Excel or download anything, they can enter the data from any desktop in the world. Word gets grudging credit as the only good option for funky printing requirements. I haven't tried out OO for this yet, it may be up to snuff now.

    Where Word really chaps my ass is that there's been no improvements in what's broken since I first started using it. Styles is borked, formatting is borked, there's little flexibility in layouts, tables are buggy, trying to size ANYTHING becomes an exercise in frustration because you cannot position by pixel but by arbitrary jumps, etc, etc. None of these problem areas are addressed, we're just buying the same old broken code with new turd polish each and every version.

    Microsoft is still the king for now but there are dozens of companies and open source projects in the race to smoke their asses. If they keep standing still, they're going to be in it like kippers. Office 2007? Fucker can't even share user resources properly. If I want to share contacts from 2007 to someone with 2003, I have to go onto his fucking machine and add myself in as an alternate mailbox. I have to go into tools, mail servers, exchange, add it in. WTF? And the stupid mail invite that goes out when you invite someone, nevermind getting permissions proper when it does things automagically. Grr!

    • by Anonymous Coward

      I also think that Google Docs is a very good solution for some scenarios such as small non-profits. I work with coffee coops and one of the biggest problems is maintaining machines running because they all want to run Windows OS and Office... from what I've seen, in the international arena Microsoft is one of the biggest stumbling blocks to any real development. Organizations that are strapped for resources spend too much time and money on maintaining their Windows crippled boxes.
      One of the things that I ha

  • by guanxi (216397) on Friday July 18, 2008 @12:11AM (#24237613)

    We tested and use Zoho and Google; both had serious collaboration bugs:

    * Users could overwrite each other's others changes without knowing it. For example if Amy edits a cell (in the spreadsheet app) or text (in the word processor), and the update doesn't reach Bob in time, Bob could overwrite the same data with his own.

    * Edits sometimes are not updated on other users' sessions quickly enough or, in some cases, at all.

    Before you count on it for serious work, beware. It seems like a fundamental issue they should have anticipated on day one.

  • by dinther (738910) on Friday July 18, 2008 @01:32AM (#24238159) Homepage

    I run my own one man IT business and all and I really mean ALL of the documentation is handled through Google Docs.

    It is great for collaboration purposes. Version management build in and to top it all off, I never have to worry about access or backup! Especially not with Google Gears that ensures access even when the internet is down (Never happens here)

    Now google docs is indeed not too great if you want to do Desktop publishing which is what some people seem to think MS Word is for. I do need the odd picture included in my documents but I wrote a little application to streamline that process.

    I made it available for free on my Google site of course. My program Pastry will archive every bitmap you copy and allow for easy upload to Google or anywhere else for that matter. Have a look on: http://vandinther.googlepages.com/pastry [googlepages.com]

  • A week ago I was booked for flight and hotel by a client's travel service. The e-ticket showed up in one of my Gmail accounts (multiple accounts with +append addresses and thought-through forwarding really does help) along with address info and an expense form. Google's integrated service meant that I was able to move between e-mail, the expense form and the mapping service while all the while auto-formatting/transferring documents between services. It worked very well.

    Seriously, it just wasn't worth the

  • by iwein (561027)
    I've been trying Wua.la [wua.la] (alpha) they enable P2P disk sharing, so you can actually share and access normal files over a P2P network. It's encrypted, so you shouldn't be exposed to peers reading your data.

    I love the theory, and I think it makes much more sense than the online alternatives.

    (I'm not related to Wuala other than being an enthusiastic user)
  • Initally I found it easy to think that web apps would displace desktop applications like Office. But the truth is, these solutions depend greatly on wireless technology. I need to be able to be connected to my documents everywhere. This is the reason thin clients just don't work... yet. I always picture the typical scenario of being on a plane. Until I have fast, broadband speed internet on a plane, these will not gain any footing on Office of OpenOffice.

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